My two favorite things about the holidays are celebrating traditions and drinking sweet sugary things out of a mug. Both activities can be found at Chicago’s annual Christkindlmarket, located right in the middle of Daley Plaza between Washington, Clark and Dearborn Streets. This German open air market (bundle up!) runs daily from November 23rd to December 24th from 11 am to 8 pm (9 pm on Fridays and Saturdays). Filled with parades, tree lighting ceremonies, live music and more the Christkindlmarket will transport you back in time and across the ocean to spend a few Christmas hours in a European village. This is the perfect place to shop, eat, chat, and generally get your fill of the season. Kids can even visit with Christkind (better known as Santa) or enjoy a live performance of The Christmas Schooner.
If your idea of holiday spirits includes drinking spiced wine out of a ceramic boot, you need to head over to one of the German food vendors like Brutzelbude Kahla. They’ll help keep the cold Chicago wind at bay with a tall mug of Spaten Lager, mulled wine, or hot chocolate. Starved from addressing all those Christmas cards? The food here is also worth the trip, and you’ll see dozens of citizens braving the cold at outdoor tables piled high with piping hot potato pancakes (get applesauce on the side), Schnitzel, German burgers, and goulash soup. After you’ve eaten your fill it’s time for everyone’s third favorite holiday pastime, shopping. You can browse for hours buying authentic European gifts from hand carved nutcrackers to Peruvian jewelry and wooden toys. Start off with a visit to the Bavarian Workshop to pick out handmade glass ornaments for a perfect gift. And don’t forget the Christmas pickle! This glass ornament is an exact replica of a pickle and comes with a wonderfully bizarre history. Legend has it that you hide the pickle in your Christmas tree and on Christmas Eve the first child (or inebriated adult) who finds the pickle without destroying your tree wins a special gift. Be wary of playing this game at holiday parties - your tree may end up knocked into the egg nog. To help fill up those stockings you should check out the Sweet Castle. They often have a very large line of customers looking for roasted nuts, gingerbread heart cookies, authentic German candies, and marzipan animals. Nothing says Christmas like a marzipan pig!